Between October 2008 and March 2009 there were six months of qualification all around the world for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 and in each of the six confederations there was a shock. In Asia, Japan did not make the grade. Côte d'Ivoire will not be one of Africa's representatives. France and Mexico failed to get through their qualifiers in Europe and the CONCACAF region respectively. New Zealand missed out for the first time since Australia's departure to the AFC, but perhaps the biggest surprise of them all was that Argentina, the current holders of the U-20 trophy and Olympic champions will not be taking part. As a result, it promises to be the most open tournament in years.
The first team to book their place in the competition were obviously Egypt, as hosts who will be joined by a strong African contingent. Arguably the pick of the bunch are Ghana, the continent's champions, who finished in fourth place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007. The coach that masterminded them to that finish, Sellas Tetteh, will also be in charge of the Black Satellites in September. He will be able to call upon the lethal striking partnership of Ransford Osei and Sadick Adams to help his team achieve global glory. Yet, the Ghana side will face formidable opposition, especially from within their own continent. Nigeria have just announced that Samson Siasia, who led his country's U-23 side to an Olympic Silver Medal last September, will assume the role as coach for Egypt 2009. Siasia was also at the helm when the Flying Eagles reached the final of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Netherlands 2005 and the last eight two years later in Canada.
"Nigerians have shown me love since 2005 and when the people call me once again I have no other alternatives," Siasia said. "I'm confident we can turn things around as soon as possible, and for the Under-20 World Cup, I need the support of everyone to succeed. We have all the material we need in Nigeria to achieve success but good attitude, professionalism and dedication from all matters a lot."
Cameroon and South Africa are the regions other two qualifiers, who will be hoping that the trophy returns to Africa following its two year spell in South America. But Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and newcomers Venezuela will be looking to take the laurels back to their continent. For neutral fans, the pick of that bunch is undoubtedly the Seleçao with the likes of Douglas Costa, Walter and Dentinho expected to shine. There are also some familiar faces from Europe with England, Germany Italy and Spain all in attendance, with the Czech Republic and Hungary also making it through. However, with the tournament taking place in September and October, during the early part of the season, the coaches will be reliant on clubs releasing their players for this showpiece event.
A 2-1 win over New Zealand set Tahiti on the road to qualification and, in doing so, they became the first nation from Oceania outside Australia and New Zealand to qualify for an 11-a-side FIFA competition. "Winning the championship is incredible, both for us and the people of Tahiti, who can now be confident in the quality of our youth players," said their coach Lionel Charbonnier. "We were ranked at 187 in the latest FIFA ranking and now we have qualified with the 24 best teams in the world for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. I am so proud of the team." There was also a sense of pride in Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago and the USA as they booked their passage, but perhaps the keenest sense of achievement was felt in Costa Rica, as they won their regional tournament, defeating the US by three goals to nil.
Australia, Korea Republic, Uzbekistan and United Arab Emirates emerged at the top of the pile in Asia, with the latter two teams contesting the final in Saudi Arabia. UAE emerged victorious making it the first time a west Asian team won an AFC youth tournament since 2000, when Iraq won the U-19 title and Oman captured what was then the U-17 crown.
Those teams face a short wait until their destinies are revealed, as the draw for the tournament will take place at 8.00pm (local time) on Sunday 5 April at the Luxor Temple.